SALT LAKE CITY — British producer and celebrity judge Nigel Lythgoe believes dance is experiencing a resurgence in this country. He credits that, in part, to his hit Fox reality show “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Now embarking on his ninth season, Lythgoe and fellow judges Mary Murphy and Adam Shankman spent time at the Capitol Theatre over the weekend to film the final round of Salt Lake’s open auditions, where they decided the fates of finalists hoping for one of the coveted tickets to Las Vegas to compete on the show.
The auditions officially began last Thursday at 6 a.m., when a long line of shivering aspirants ranging from ballerinas to break dancers wrapped around the theater and down the street. Several rounds and 48 hours later, 259 hopefuls had been whittled down to 37 finalists who danced on the stage in front of a live audience, FOX’s cameras and, of course, the trio of celebrity judges.
“It’s nerve-racking,” said Ogden native Ryan Ricardo, whose “popping” impressed the judges, but ultimately not enough to land him a spot in Vegas. Before learning the dance genre 10 years prior, Ricardo practiced martial arts, which primed him for movement control. Mastering rhythm came from his drummer dad, who was in the audience to support his son.
“Next year,” Ricardo promised as he exited the stage.
For another Salt Lake Community College freshman whose name will be withheld until the show airs, however, the outcome was brighter. While bantering with judges before his performance, he acknowledged his grandmother, also a dancer, as his major influence. Mr. Lythgoe found her in the audience and invited her to take his judge’s seat to watch her grandson perform his contemporary piece. When he finished, it was grandma who got to hand him the ticket to Vegas.
Salt Lake was one of only five “So You Think” locations in the country selected to host auditions. Others include major cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta. Yet more often than not, the TV show has hit up Salt Lake for dancers, which Murphy credits to an unusually high pool of talent.
“The first time we came here, we thought: what is going on in this state?” she said with a laugh during an interview session between auditions.
What’s going on, she realized, was Brigham Young University's competitive and long-running ballroom dance program, the city’s surprising amount of high-caliber professional dance companies and myriad other dance programs for young people.
“We love it here, and that’s why we keep coming back,” Murphy said.